What do I need to run Vista well? (Updated July 13, 2008)
Image Credit: Sovereign
Windows Vista requires a much faster "base" computer than Windows XP did when it was released. What you "need to run Vista well" contained herein is my opinion and my opinion only. If it is grossly incorrect, please tell me and I will correct the post. My definition of "runs well" means the system runs with Aero Glass enabled, and is responsive to the touch (no spinning blue ring).
In general, a decently modern CPU is required. My roommate runs Vista on a single-core 1.86GHz Pentium-M and it does not feel slow. In general, I believe most higher-end Pentium 4s and Athlon XPs should be able to run Vista. Again, I have not worked with these CPUs, so at present this is just an educated guess.
I run Vista on an Intel Q6600 (3.0GHz quad) and Core Duo (note the lack of a "2" after) which is a 1.73GHz dual core part.. Unlike Windows XP, Vista (to my knowledge) does not require any of the special patches that Windows XP did to make dual-core CPUs behave. It also manages dual (and quad) core scheduling better. Vista is licensed per processor socket, not per core!
There have been rumors about Vista being limited on dual core (or quad core) CPUs, this is completely false! This Microsoft page
talks about multicore licensing as related to servers, but the same applies to consumer versions. As long as you don't have more than two physical processors, Vista will not complain. How do you know how many physical processors you have? How many processor sockets does your motherboard have? If you have more than one and don't know it, count me surprised and astounded. Having two (or more) CPUs show up in the Task Manager does NOT mean you have two physical processors, necessarily, because both dual core and HyperThreaded CPUs show up this way as well. See the following image:
This is not a four-socket system, dual core with HyperThreading or twin dual core system. This is a quad core CPU, but as you can see with the number of different processor configurations that this could represent, you cannot always tell CPU count from the Task Manager view alone.
I recommend 2GB of RAM or more for Vista. Again, Vista will run
on as little as 512MB of RAM, but at that level, the Aero Glass theme is disabled and the system uses ~75% of the main memory just sitting idle. I know this from a test we conducted using my roommate's laptop (which had 1GB in two 512MB sticks at the time). Vista runs okay (in my opinion) on 1GB RAM, and if all you're going to do is word-process and internet, you can "get away" with having so little memory.
However, if you want Vista to perform its best, you really need 2GB or more of memory. I had 1GB in my laptop, and it felt sluggish. I currently have 2GB. This allows the OS to have plenty of room to spread out (its bloat), as well as have plenty of RAM for SuperFetch to do its job. Any more RAM than 2GB is overkill unless you are a heavy gamer and/or are into professional CAD applications. Plus, anything above 3.12GB requires switching to a 64-bit edition of Vista to take advantage of. I will talk about that later.
Hard Drive Recommendations
Does Vista need a Raptor? Will my old 10GB EIDE drive work? No and no. Vista does not need a super-fast drive to perform reasonably well, otherwise laptop users would be out in the cold. My laptop has a 5400RPM drive, and Vista is more than okay. However, any drive under 40GB is really not a good idea (and that assumes you don't have very much "stuff" that you store). Vista install sizes have been reported by users of [H]ardOCP
to be anywhere from 10GB to 26GB(!) depending on version and whether or not Service Pack 1 Release Candidate 1 is installed. My Windows Vista Ultimate x64 with no Service Pack weighs in at 14.0GB (14.1GB on disk). My recommendation is nothing less than 120GB if you are a typical user with some music, games, movies and other content. SATA (Serial ATA, thin cables) versus PATA (Parallel ATA, fat ribbon cable) doesn't really make a difference. Why? Because no single drive in existence right now has the ability to saturate the data bus continuously. I only recommend SATA as future-proofing (and to improve airflow/cable management), not because SATA is 200x faster than PATA.
Graphics Card Recommendations
Windows Vista ditches the GDI+ system used to draw the desktop environment in Windows XP and earlier. It instead uses the Desktop Window Manager to draw into an offscreen buffer, which is then rendered in real-time 3D like a game. Hence, this OS needs some kind of 3D acceleration to look its best. Rest assured, GMA950 will cut it, you do not need 8800GTX SLI just for the Operating System alone! However, if you want to play games that's an entirely different story. Virtually any modern graphics unit (integrated or otherwise) is more than capable of running Vista's fancy Aero Glass interface.
All those "Vista Certified" fans, PSUs, speakers, monitors, desk lamps and air cans (okay the last two don't exist...yet
) are full of bollocks and are just trying to drive sales by claiming to be "with it" for the next operating system. Whatever you may have heard, Creative (and other soundcards) DO work in Vista, however in order to implement DirectSound, Creative has written ALchemy to translate DirectSound into OpenAL (which Vista runs natively). This has resulted in some blue screens and general annoyance as ALchemy doesn't always work as it is supposed to. Furthermore, unless you own an X-Fi, Creative wants you to pay for the privilege of having full 3D audio in Vista. I call bullshit on that one.